Monday, May 23, 2011

Male Beauty and the Beasts

Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man in King of the Jungle (1933)

Although King of the Jungle (1933) was inspired by the success of the earlier Tarzan, the Ape Man, the character of Kaspa is very different from that of Tarzan. While Tarzan is presented from the outset as a fully mature, wily, and even fearsome hunter, Kaspa is gentle, a sexually developed but naïve boy-man/male-female, straddling age and gender in very interesting ways.

The first time we see the adult Kaspa (Buster Crabbe), he is cuddling lion cubs, and looks more like a big muscular baby in a diaper playing with stuffed animals.  Later, dialogue drives home the point that Kaspa is really just a big, innocent boy, rather than a mature man.

When a lioness is killed, Kaspa takes over the protection of her cubs, essentially becoming the lioness. And for the rest of the film, we never see him kill as a hunter does, but always defend and protect, even at the expense of his own well-being, much as a mother will sacrifice herself for her children.

The story is simple: Kaspa was raised by lions after his parents were killed on safari. When he is grown up, he is discovered and kidnapped by circus promoters, who bring him to the States against his will to perform as a side-show attraction. There, he remains with the circus in spite of his own misery, in order to find a way to free the circus lions and take them back to Africa.

Not only is being made into a side-show curiosity an ultimate objectification, but every woman who sees Kaspa frankly drools over his breathtakingly exposed flesh. The film has no female sex objects; the object of desire in this movie is the gorgeous physique of Olympic swim champion Buster Crabbe.  However, Kaspa is not particularly interested. When one woman lewdly invites him to “give her a tumble,” he replies with one of his first English words: “Scram!”

She invites Kaspa to "give her a tumble." His reply: "Scram!"

Unlike Tarzan, who has his sexual awakening when he sees his first woman, Jane, Kaspa never really has a full male sexual awakening. Differences in character and story account for this. In the Tarzan films, Tarzan meets Jane on his own turf – the jungle – where she is vulnerable and helpless to stop his curious advances, and he is fully in control. However, Kaspa meets his love-to-be when he is at his most vulnerable – in the city of San Francisco where he has temporarily escaped from the circus. In San Francisco, she is “king” while he is helpless – a nearly naked boy-man running wild through the city (a tradition still alive and well here, I might add).

Kaspa meets Ann and friend. In this amusing reversal, "Adam" offers an apple to two "Eves."

Throughout the film, Ann (Frances Dee), although ostensibly Kaspa’s love interest, is always more his protector and confidant than object of desire. And, Kaspa’s goal is never to “get” Frances or even to save himself, but instead it is to free – and thus save – the lions. His goal is neither sexual nor for his own benefit – as a typical “male” goal would be – but instead is selfless and “maternal,” as he remains steadfastly in the role of “lioness” that he assumed at the beginning of the film.

Thus Kaspa embodies not only "masculine" charactertistics but many of the "feminine" as well. He is sexual object rather than objectfier, caregiver rather than hunter, and captive rather than captor. He is a kinder, gentler, more sensitive alternative to the traditional jungle-man hero. (Perhaps we can think of him as "Tarzan as a bottom!")
Whoever designed Buster Crabbe's loincloth gets a gold star!

Perhaps best known as the original Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers of 1930s serials, Buster Crabbe (1908-1983) is one of my all-time favorite serial and B-Movie actors. Besides being incredibly handsome, with a beautiful swimmer's physique, he was a more competent actor than many have given him credit for. He brings a naturalness to his roles that belies his craft at creating believable, dimensional characters. Whether in westerns, sci-fi, noir, or jungle epics, he is always interesting...and always beautiful.

The following 10-minute clip from YouTube is a condensed version of the first half of King of the Jungle.

How can you see the whole film? "King of the Jungle" is hard to find on DVD, as it has not (yet) been released by a major studio. However, I was able to find a copy from, which specializes in making their own DVD transfers from original film elements.


  1. Thanks for this post. I am a huge Buster Crabbe fan and have been since I saw a VHS version of the Flash Gordon serials as a kid. I always found him very sexy, and today's post is no exception. Do you know if this movie is available on DVD?


  2. Great post--and of a movie I don't know! Though I thought about Buster Crabbe as I was tape delaying Buck Rogers on Saturday...

    I checked both Netflix and the database at TCM--no DVD seems to exist yet.

  3. Another great post man. Big fan of Buster Crabbe too. Hoping that they can replay those movies on TV sometimes. Thank you for that my friend


  4. Hey Ace, FelchingPisser, and Yves, I'm so happy to find other Buster Crabbe fans! I was worried that no one would remember him anymore. Thanks for allaying my fears! I'm sure I will be writing about him again. He's pretty irresistible in Flash Gordon too, running around in boots and hot pants.

    "King of the Jungle" is hard to find, as it has not (yet) been released on DVD by a major studio. However, I was able to find a copy from, which specializes in making their own DVD transfers from original film elements.

  5. For some reason, I can not recall the movie King of the jungle. I am sure I would have seen it when I was a young man!I can say I am still dribbling with lust over this sexy delightful man called Buster Crabbe. I do love the shots showing off his cute little ass.. makes me weak at the knees.

  6. Man, am I a fan of Buster Crabbe! I'm one of the biggest Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers fans I know! To be fair, most people in my generation don't actually know about Flash and Buck, but I love them. I just wish more people did too.


  7. Hey Wally, I'm glad you're part of the Buster Crabbe fan club too!

  8. Ace, It does my heart so good to know you're carrying the Buster Crabbe torch for the younger generation. Stay tuned for more Buster Crabbe posts here in the future

  9. Hi Jason_M, Yes this one is definitely pre-code. That accounts for the frank sexual arousal of the women upon encountering Buster. Anyone who thinks old movies are prim and proper should immerse themselves in pre-1933 productions. Some pretty wonderful and surprising stuff.

  10. What a gem! I found a copy online, an original film transfer. Thank you for turning me on to this gem!

  11. Fairy Godfather, You are very welcome! I'm glad you found a copy and enjoyed the film.